- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

ST. LOUIS (AP) - The University of Missouri-St. Louis on Wednesday announced a hiring freeze in response to an unexpected enrollment drop that campus officials are linking to the fatal police shooting in nearby Ferguson.

Chancellor Tom George announced the hiring freeze in a campuswide email that cited a $2 million budget shortfall created by “widespread anxiety about the region in general and North (St. Louis) County in particular.”

“Misplaced though it may be, it is a perception affecting the community and UMSL,” he said.

Campus spokesman Bob Samples said some new and returning students have told the university they’ve decided not to enroll because of the fallout from the Aug. 9 police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

The university, with an enrollment of about 12,000, expects to have 600 fewer students in the upcoming spring semester compared with spring 2014. A projected 4 percent enrollment increase in the fall semester instead turned out to be just a 1 percent boost.

The campus is 4 miles from where Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot Brown two weeks before the start of fall classes. Looting and arsons that followed Brown’s death and the announcement of a grand jury decision to not indict Wilson were largely confined to a retail corridor along West Florissant Avenue and parts of downtown Ferguson near the police station.

Sophomore Amber Whitaker, who grew up in rural St. Clair but lives less than 2 miles from Ferguson in neighboring Kinloch, said she’s met “first-time students who were very nervous about coming here and not sure what to expect.”

She called such fears unfounded.

“I can understand for people who are not from this area to be a little cautious, but I think it’s highly ridiculous,” said Whitaker, who led a recent campus protest after the Ferguson grand jury announcement. “The media made it look a lot more dangerous than it really was.”

The campus hiring freeze, which covers both full-time and part-time workers as well as tenured professors, takes effect immediately. The hiring ban doesn’t include part-time student workers, graduate assistants and certain adjunct faculty.

George plans to further discuss the Ferguson fallout when curators for the four-campus University of Missouri System hold their regular bimonthly meeting in St. Louis on Thursday and Friday.

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Follow Alan Scher Zagier on Twitter at https://twitter.com/azagier

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